A Travellerspoint blog

You Don't Need To Go To Everest To Get High

My suggestion for the town motto of Pokhara

sunny 20 °C

As you may have gathered from the start of my previous entry, the atmosphere of Pokhara is to Kathmandu like the Gold Coast to Nimbin- though while Kathmandu lacks the golden beaches and bikini-clad revellers, Pokhara does draw several parallels with its Australian cousin. The second biggest city in Nepal sure doesn't feel like it at street level, especially in Northside, a sleepy cluster of guesthouses, cafes, tailor stores and yoga centres. I set up camp on a balcony in Banana Garden Lodge (overlooking rice fields and indeed a huge garden) and Northside has been my stomping ground ever since.

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Pokhara sprawls along the shores of Fewa Tal- a huge lake that at any one time you'll see local ladies washing under sarongs, lads fishing with bamboo rods, Chinese tourists squealing as they are paddled around in bright blue boats by able Nepalese seamen, kayakers practicing their rolls and paragliders skimming over the top to land on the shore. Pokhara definitely has two distinct 'scenes'- Northside chills under an ever-present fog of weed smoke, lazing around in hippy pants creating elaborate structures from its ample dreadlocks, heading off to meditate on a hilltop- while Central Lakeside is yang to its yin- stores tout white-water rafting, the World's Most Extreme Zipline Experience, paragliding, trekking (Pokhara is the jumping-off point for most Annapurna hikers), food is considerably more expensive and westernised (if I get a hunkering for steak I have innumerable options) and I'd challenge a monk to meditate in the midst of the cacophony of 'taxi? taxi madam?' 'come, look, don't have to buy, no worries' and the general hustle and bustle of the tourist trade. While I have certainly spent many hours watching the paragliders spiral around the heights of Sarangkot and considered selling a kidney to fund spending my last few weeks completing my paragliding licence, I've managed to steer very clear of activity-laden Central Lakeside and fall instead into the pace of Northside- a slow reggae groove, with organic breakfast to start.

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However, as my parents discovered on their recent holiday to visit me in Cairns, I'm not very good at just 'relaxing'- Mum speculated that perhaps I'd developed ADHD in my old age. Well. After I'd had my fill of et-read-eat-wander-eat-sleep-repeat, I gladly availed myself of the opportunity to trek into the hills a little and spend a week with a Nepalese family- 13 people, 11 cows, 3 buffalo, 1000 chickens, many vegie plots, and, temporarily, me. The farm is about an hour walk from Northside, perched on a hill in 'Lovely Hill' village, blissfully quiet and peaceful though still overlooking the urban sprawl of greater Pokhara. To start with there was only one other volunteer, an energetic Spanish lad named Juan, but we were soon joined by a globetrotting German/Danish couple, Ollie and Ditte, and together we bumbled through Nepalese farming life. Our adventures included teaching-ourselves-how-to-use-a-power-tiller (quickly followed by) fixing-it-when-it-broke, clearing fields (which would have been considerably less exciting were it not for the bamboo stems contriving to slice our hands to pieces), hand churning butter, milking cows, preparing the chicken shed, and, for us lucky ladies, washing clothes, preparing food and always, always, washing dishes. The farm's main source of income comes from selling the milk of the cows and buffaloes, and the chickens, who and kept for 45 days before being sold for meat. Days began at 4am with milking, but the volunteers didn't begin until 5am- starting with hot, sweet black tea, and packaging the milk. One of us would jump (helmetless) on the motorbike with Ashok (the head of the family) and deliver the milk to around 30 households, before more tea at home and commencement of the morning's work. You may have noticed that I did not, at any point in the above description, mention food. Breakfast. Breaking-the-nightly-fast-before-the-day-begins. That, my dear friends, is because there wasn't any. In Nepalese life you eat two main meals, both dal bhaat, at 10:30am and 6:30pm (approx). You normally have an afternoon snack (often popcorn) at about 2:30pm, and tea to start the day. As a lady who loves my food (and plotted a new elaborate food-worshipping religion with a food critic I met this weekend), I found this very difficult. There were several other aspects of Nepalese farm life that I found very difficult to reconcile myself with (in regards to being both a passionate vegan and feminist) but I'll spare you all the several-paragraphs-long rant I've been musing on and simply say it was an incredibly valuable, enlightening, educational experience- and for every moment that was a trial there were moments of hilarity (have you ever seen a power tiller running madly up a slope with a Spanish guy barely holding on?), Nepalese language lessons and beautiful sunrises.

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I'm not normally one to withhold a good rant, and I can attribute this new reflectiveness to a Tibetan Buddhist retreat I've just completed- my time at the farm enabled me to save enough to attend an introductory course in Tibetan Buddhist teachings, meditation and yoga at Ganden Yiga Choezin; the Pokhara Buddhist Meditation centre, which is under the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. Myself and 27 other curious souls from all walks of life perched on piles of cushions for 2 1/2 and begun to delve both into our own minds and values and what makes the minds and values of a Tibetan Buddhist. While I found more questions than answers in the teachings I certainly enjoyed the chance for reflection and some personal internal spring cleaning; and also the chance to bump brains with like-minded people.

I'll be leaving my Nepal entries here- I've only a week left before I'm back in Aus, where I'll be working in Melbourne for the summer, on the beach at St Kilda teaching another season of kitesurfing. After that, who knows where I'll be writing from!

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Posted by lucyfbaird 19:37 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

The Many Faces of Dal Bhaat

Or, Nepal: Vegan Hiker's Heaven.

sunny 0 °C

Namaste, friends, from Pokhara, Nepal. Starting this entry has already been interrupted several times- by a visit to ma man across the road who sits by the lake and supplies me with crispy pyramids of samosa goodness, by the whoops of a paraglider soaring overhead, by the colours of the sunset, and finally by the falling dusk (well too engrossed in the aforementioned sunset). With some strong Himalayan-grown coffee by my side (carried my addiction across the world as per usual) and fairy lights strung across the roof lattice that also accommodates fluttering prayer flags, here goes take two. Or seven. Whatever. As the Nepali say, as I stumble my way through their country, wisdom imparted with a gentle shake of the head- 'slowly, slowly.' The tales of Pokhara will keep for another day- this entry is all about the Khumbu region and stumbles within.

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My first three or so weeks here were spent in hiking boots paying homage to the great Himalaya. Joined by a partner-in-crime of New Zealand summer fame, Ali, we set off to see what this whole Everest-region thing was all about. Well, we tried to- flights from Kathmandu to Lukla (gateway for most trekkers) are notorious for being cancelled more often that not. Due to Lukla's precarious perch on the side of a mountain at 2840m elevation, if there's rain, or over ten knots of wind, or cloud, or if Kathmandu is foggy, no flights can take off or land. The first time we tried to fly, we made it as far as boarding, stuffing the complimentary cotton wool in our ears, before being told that Lukla was closed and to watch our heads on the low door as we exited the plane. That heralded the beginning of unseasonably bad weather across the whole Himalaya- I'm sure many of you read of the tragic deaths the ensuing blizzards brought in the Annapurna Region. Kathmandu itself was also thrashed by storms- thankfully merely comfortably watched from a roof top and not experience out in the open while trekking like many unlucky others. A few days later the weather gods smiled in our direction and off to Lukla we went- in a maybe-dozen-at-a-squeeze seater plane. Flying both into and out of Lukla was a nerve-wracking experience (well for some of us- while I shredded my complimentary cotton wool, tension radiating from my entire body, Ali couldn't have looked more relaxed if he was lounging by a pool. Hasn't he read the statistics crowning this the world's most dangerous airport?! Doesn't he know the pilots are navigating manually, and half these safety instructions are in Nepali?!). I blame my still shaking legs for my first literal stumble in the Himalaya- walking through the airport door I lost my footing on the metal grate- loaded with my pack as a I was, and despite clutching poles to ward against this sort of incident, I fell heavily and took a large chunk out of my shin... In front of a huge crowd of Nepali, touting guide and porter services, a crowd we moved through surprisingly unmolested (I guess after that display of grace no-one wanted the responsibility of getting my elephantine-self safely through the Himalaya).

Lukla Airport:
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Despite this inauspicious start, we trundled happily into the wild- well, while the track from Lukla is hardly wild and contained far too many steps for my taste, sure cares are easily forgotten in the shadow of the majestic mountains that cradle the valley. As are chunks-out-of-shins. Woes that are not so easily forgotten though are stomach bugs- as the days and kilometres disappeared behind us, so, sadly, did my health- the triple whammy of tummy ills, your average common cold (and the ensuing asthma), and the altitude, did a solid number on me and as my appetite continued to elude me (First. Time. Ever) and what little food I could manage wouldn't stick in my stomach, life started to get pretty teary. At Debuche (3840m) I called a rest day, took some antibiotics, lots of electrolytes, even some good old iron tablets (desperate times) and hoped this cocktail would work some medical magic. A pretty forlorn Lucy was found decidedly more chipper come evening, and the next day while certainly not raring to go, I certainly felt like I'd turned a corner. The next few days saw my appetite return with a vengeance, hand in hand with my energy and my smile. Here are some pictures from the intervening days to lighten the mood a bit:

The view from my rest-bed in Debuche:
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In the early days the trail and lodges were quite choked with yak trains, donkey trains, Russian-tour group trains, but once we veered off towards Chhukung (4730m), we were left with just our yak friends and a much-reduced glut of fellow hikers. I was surprised how few other independent trekkers we saw- if people weren't hiking with an organised group, most still had guides and or porters. Everyday we saw ridiculously laden porters- while I felt my 15kg pack to be well heavy enough, these Nepali guys were hauling at least 2 or 3 times that.

Our highest point throughout the trek was the summit of Chhukung- a climb up to 5835m- which afforded us beautiful views over the Everest massif and back towards Island Peak and Ama Dablam.

Chhukung:
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Weather led to us forgoing a push over Kongma La pass for a dash back down the valley to follow another valley to the sacred lakes of Gokyo (4800m). The small cluster of lodges that make up Gokyo was a breathtaking place to spend a couple of days- we rocked up at 6:30pm after a 10.5 hour day which started with stunning first pinkredorange light on the mountains and finished with head torches. Gokyo was, while gobsmackingly gorgeous, also freakin cold. Despite my -12 degree sleeping bag and silk liner, I found sleep hard to come by- and feeling in my toes and feet! I practically crawled into the yak-dung-fueled heater every night and ate copious amounts of dal bhaat to counter this but returning to our room at night was always a pretty chill experience. (In the summer-esque heat of Pokhara, where I'm writing this in my lightest clothing even at night, the nights spent huddling in my down jacket inside my sleeping bag of Gokyo seems a whole universe away). But just look at the views- who needs feeling in fingers and toes anyway?

Looking back to Porche, mid-morning.
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Gokyo:
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We finished our 19 day trek with another huge day pushing over the Renjo La pass (5350m)- I had a good couple of tumbles on the icey-snow coming down but again dal bhaat cured all and after eating enough to have food-quintuplets, we trundled all the way to Thame (3800m) and found it practically balmy, immediately de-layering and kicking off stinky hiking boots to wander sandle-shod, much to the raised eyebrows of trekkers on their way up feeling the mountain chill. Over the next few days we rambled back through the picturesque Namche Bazaar (3440m), always thronging with hikers going hither and thither, and then all the way back to Lukla, looking forward to hot showers and a brief respite from dal bhaat... though also planning a speedy return to clamber up more challenging peaks.

Renjo La Pass:
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Namche Bazaar:
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We had many more hours waiting at Lukla airport to fly out, but luckily security let us leave to gather emergency rations (read: samosas) which made waiting until 3pm for our 9am flight much more palatable. A word on food- despite being warned of the lack of variety of food while trekking, I was in foodie heaven (once my tummy bug was straightened out)- the oft-mentioned dal bhaat (as-much-as-you-can-eat of dal (lentil soup) bhaat (rice), veg curry and often some greens of some description), and the samosas and momos (dumplings) of lower altitudes as well as oreos costing only 90rs (less than a dollar) a packet make for one happy Lucy.

Momos:
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The over-whelming chaos of Kathmandu, while accompanied by warmth, hot showers and cheap cheap food, was not really a welcome change from the complete peace of the mountains, and when Ali flew home I hightailed it to my current haunt of Pokhara (on a bus journey that probably took about as long as it took him to fly to Aus), where I donned my yoga threads (/rolled up my hiking pants) and commenced to fill my days with yoga, meditation and food sweet food. And also an open air cinema that shows Star Wars.

Sunset from my balcony:
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I'll write again of the sights and sounds here. Until then, peace.
Lucy.

Posted by lucyfbaird 06:00 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

These boots were made for walking...

sunny 29 °C

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Sitting down to write this entry is just another item on my increasingly long procrastinating-from-packing-up-life-again list- so far this morning I've finished Anna Karenina (again), downloaded the Russian version for my kindle (over-ambitious), and then downloaded a Russian dictionary for said kindle mere minutes later (much more realistic), made a half-hearted attempt at learning some Nepali and then a full-hearted attempt at caffeinating myself to previously unheard of levels in hope that that will inspire some productivity. Rather, I sorted through all my Cairns photos and am now making you all, dear readers, accomplices to my procrastination mission by sharing them with you!

My last two weeks in Cairns flew by, with my wonderful parentals paying a much appreciated visit and work winding up for the season. We trekked through misty rainforests, lazed on palm tree-studded beaches, chased glimmering tropical fish out on the reef, and just generally enjoyed spending time together. We spent our first week based in Yorkeys, adventuring off on day trips. On our first afternoon I dragged my flip-flop wearing Dad and more appropriately shod Mum up to Stoney Creek- aptly named, this creek winds its way down a rocky gorge, stopping to create refreshing (read: bloody cold) swimming pools which are visited by amazing electric blue dragonflies and surprisingly no people.
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Continuing our rainforest-exploration theme, we headed up to Mossman Gorge the next day- probably one of the most touristed sites around the Cairns/Port Douglas area. Despite a hugely packed car park, once we were out on the trails we didn't see too many people- just amazing fig trees, with their intricate roots, and the clearest creeks I think I've ever seen.
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Of course the most touristed site of all is the Great Barrier Reef- and while we are a tough lot to satisfy (I wanted to dive independently, Dad wanted to adventure snorkel and Mum wanted a How-To-Snorkel sesh) we managed to find a boat which covered all options and spent the day frolicking- my highlight was certainly following a sleepy white tip reef shark around and heading through an unbelievable chasm (following Dory's advice- swim through, not over!). By this time we had discovered the $15/45 minute Chinese massages at the night market so headed straight there off the boat- I'll admit despite my masseuse using her elbows I still nearly fell asleep after three dives in a day. We spent an afternoon or two exploring Cairns itself- my parents marvelled at the constant throng of people and partygoers- made even more pronounced by the sudden infiltration of every football and netball club in the country on their trip away.
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Walking along the Marina:
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The Tanks Arts Centre: I saw a myriad of amazing bands here, from Russian-Hungarian Gypsy folk to the Beautiful Girls on my last night.
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For the second week, we hired a campervan and took off in search of cassowaries and Cape Tribulation. Luckily we found both!
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Once you've crossed the Daintree River, the landscape shifts to even more green, even more lush, and even more oh-wow-this-creek-is-certainly-hiding-crocodiles. The distance from that ferry crossing to Cape Trib itself is quite small, so we enjoyed being able to stop and look at everything- a distinct change from normal touristing in Aus- 'Ok, so where's our next stop... Oh I see. 300 km away.'
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The weather was quite windy and a bit stormy looking most of time, but we lucked out and had no rain and sunny, beachy afternoons. Our one goal for the trip was to spot a Cassowary- with only about 1000 left in the wild, our chances weren't great but while driving down to Cow Bay Mum let out a strangled cry that Dad and I eventually figured out was 'Cassowary!' Dad threw the van into reverse and sure enough, down a dirt side road there it was- strutting across the road like nobody's business. This sighting finally put to rest Mum's earlier assertion that Cassowaries were the size of chickens (?!) but also shot down mine that they stood a solid 2m high. Sadly no pictures were taken. Instead I offer this documented sighting of a gorgeous goanna- what a babe.
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We lucked out with beach side camping- though with school holidays in full swing there were plenty of children running around to make sure we were up bright and early every day.
Thornton Beach:
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Ellis Beach: (made all the more amazing by the fact that the small cafe across the road had vegan cupcakes. And also the barista's latte art was Jimmy Hendrix's face. Yup.)
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And with that my time in Cairns was done! A last kitesurf, visit from a dear university friend, another trip out to Fitzroy, the amazing music of the Beautiful Girls and incredibly trashy music of Cairns's biggest backpacker club rounded out my last day, and then it was the old airport shuffle to end up back in Vic. The next time I write will probably be somewhere in noisy, colourful, Kathmandu- and all I'll be able to talk about is mountains. Consider yourselves warned.

Love and peace,
Lucy.

Posted by lucyfbaird 16:58 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Am I not turtley enough for the turtle club?

Pick the old movie reference... (that's for you Brit!) Also turtles are very relevant to this entry, by the by.

sunny 29 °C

Ladies and gents, I've been sitting on this one for a while. Not normally one to procrastinate from blogging, the months since I last wrote have simply disappeared into a whirlwind of oh-look-the-tradewinds-finally-kicked-in and wow-you've-been-here-three-months-and-haven't-actually-taken-any-pictures-to-share-with-anyone-except-of-baked-goods. Luckily, over the last couple of weeks a few things have happened to remedy this- Mona came to visit and took oodles of photos which she has authorised me to share at my leisure, and I took a solid week off work to enjoy her visit and then follow it with diving on the Great Barrier Reef for a few days.

With not too many stories to tell, this entry will be mostly photos- which, let's be honest, is what y'all are here for anyway. In an update-type vein, my time here in Cairns is coming to an end- my parents will be here in 4 sleeps (yes I'm counting down) and then I'll be back in Vic just two weeks after that- hopefully the weather is warming up down there in readiness. After a scant week at home manically packing and repacking and probably also sleeping a lot, I'm flying out to Nepal for 7 weeks- a well-needed foray into mountains before another summer in Melbtown. I've been indulging with much online gear shopping- assembling a birthday-like pile of packages to await me at home. Tis hard to shop for -10 degree sleeping bags while lolling about in a sundress- I think the Himalaya are going to be a massive shock to my I'll-keep-this-29-degree-winter-thanks-very-much body.

So, to the turtles! After a wonderful weekend of frolicking in salt water and sunbathing, slurping pad thai and swimming under waterfalls (and because it is Mona and I, non-stop talking), we ventured out to Fitzroy Island before Mona flew back to Melbourne. Fitzroy is a beautiful continental island, surrounded by reef and covered in rainforest. We snorkelled, wandered, flippered along behind a turtle and chased down a nemo or two.

With a taste for this whole holidaying-venture, immediately after Mona's departure I booked two days diving on the outer reef. Since I came back my students could be forgiven for thinking I run a dive company and not a kite school- as I'm urging everyone quite emphatically to get out there and see it for themselves. In two days I swam with sharks, hunted with giant trevally, oogled turtles and families of nemos, was suddenly surrounded by maori wrasse and made particular friends with one named Wally. Not only was there an abundance of amazing reef life, the boat I stayed on was well-stocked with great food and great company.

Here an assortment of photos: some Sunday wave session SUP pics, then Mona's visit and finally my time on the reef.

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Mona and Lucy's Great Adventure:
Crystal Cascades- awesome freshwater swimming hole sans crocs. Bonus!
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Fitzroy Island:
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Lucy Goes To The Reef:
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Lots of love and have-you-been-to-the-reef-yet-because-oh-wow-you-really-must-absolutely-go...
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Posted by lucyfbaird 03:26 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Achtung! Crocodiles May Be Present In These Waters.

sunny 28 °C

Just as birds are wont to migrate during the winter months, I have done the same and fled Melbourne's bitter cold for the tropics. This entry comes to you from sunny, sunny Cairns, in the far north of Queensland. Days are a balmy 28 degrees, and my lone jumper that I brought with me remains balled in the back of my cupboard.

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I am working managing a kite school up here- bit more work than simply instructing, but my brain is enjoying the workout (also I get to feel super professional with a work diary, and work folder, and work phone... I'm pushing for a work jet ski at the moment). The trade winds are just starting to kick in, and it's been fun watching all the kiters come out of the woodwork and seeing the beach transform into an explosion of brightly-coloured kites flitting this way and that. I'm planning on staying up here through September, and if anyone feels like a tropical getaway they can find me in my office: a hammock slung between coconut palms.

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As my 'office' location might suggest, life up here is incredibly relaxed and lazy- when not in my hammock I can be found trying (key word there) to learn to surf on a Stand Up Paddle board- there's a great bunch of guys up here who roll up once the tide is low enough to generate some nice rolling sets just off the point at the end of my road, and what they pull off with style and grace I am fumbling through with many thorough dumpings. If there is no wind a ride through the sugar cane plantations is always on the cards, though the many, many, MANY signs warning of crocodiles living in the area are certainly enough to keep my pace nice and sprightly.

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I'm living about 2 minutes walk from the beach- when I leave my window open at night I can hear the waves (and then the kookaburras at the crack of dawn), with the former being soothing and the latter being pillow-over-the-ears worthy. My suburb is north of Cairns and super sleepy- I'm getting used to walking in the middle of the road a-la-country Victoria, and riding around without a helmet and without shoes. Also, it is named Yorkeys Knob. Yep.

And that, friends, is about it from me! I hope you are all healthy and happy.

Until next time!

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Posted by lucyfbaird 00:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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